February 3 - Different Paths toward the Same Goal

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On February 3, 1898, Alice Ruth Moore in Brooklyn wrote to her fiancé Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., saying she was eager to have him meet Booker T. Washington.

About B. T. Washington.  Read in this week's Independent.  I send you the Age and Southern Workman in this mail.  Then read Durham's article in the Atlantic Monthly.  I hope you won't be obdurate to the arguments presented.  The Armstrong Association gives its annual blowout at Madison Square Garden on the 12th.  Ex-President Cleveland is to preside and Mr. Washington is to be the principal speaker.  Will you take me?  I am very anxious to go, and I want to introduce you to Mr. Washington.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 3, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Both Paul and Booker T. Washington wanted racial equality in America, but they promoted different paths toward that goal.  Washington was principal of the Tuskegee Institute, an Alabama school that provided vocational training to African Americans.  He believed that industrial education and manual labor would enable Black people to rise in society.  On the other hand, Paul believed that higher education would elevate the race.  In her letter, Alice urged Paul not to reject Washington's philosophy, and suggested he read some recent articles on the topic.  One of them was written by John Stephens Durham, a Black author, lawyer and diplomat.  He wrote that manual labor was the "only hope" for African Americans, and discouraged them from becoming "mediocre" professionals.

Indeed, ability to work, the negro's sole heritage from slavery as his only hope as a freedman, does not secure him opportunity.  The results have been a lack of incentive to the young generation to learn trades, a general entry into domestic service by many of the men who would have been the race's best representatives, and the entry of a disproportionate number into the learned professions.  Many men who would have been successful mechanics and honorable citizens are now mediocre lawyers, preachers, and teachers, exposed to the temptation to live by their wits.  It was to offset these effects that the work of Hampton, Tuskegee, and other trade schools of the South were organized on special lines.  This system of education has been the great counterforce to the tendencies that I have been describing.

"The Labor Unions and the Negro," by John Stephens Durham.  The Atlantic Monthly (Boston, Massachusetts).  February 1898.  Pages 222 - 227.

Alice asked Paul to go with her to a large New York fundraiser (that she called a "blowout") for the benefit of the Tuskegee Institute, but he seemed uninterested.

I expect to start for New York Thursday evening as soon as [the] Library closes and I hope to see you that night if I do not get in too late.  As to the other blowout we must talk it over when I am with you.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 8, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

During the New York fundraiser, Washington gave a speech that praised industrial education and minimized the importance of book learning.

Despite the curse of slavery, during those dark and bitter days God was preparing the way for the solution of the race problem, along the lines of industrial training.  Every large slave plantation was in a limited sense an industrial school.  Thus at the beginning of our freedom we found ourselves in possession of the common and skilled labor of the South.  For twenty years after freedom, we overlooked what had been taking place on these plantations.  We were educated in the book, which was all right.  But gradually those who learned to be skilled laborers during slavery disappeared by death.  Then we began to realize that we were training no colored youths to take their places.  That we may hold our own in the industrial and business world, we must learn to put brains and skills into the common occupations about our doors, and we must learn to dignify common labor.

"His Second Freedom." Unidentified newspaper clipping [February 1898.]  Scrapbook No. 1, Pages 15 - 17.  Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library (Newark, Delaware).  MSS 0113, Box 12, F230 - 232.

Paul visited New York during the weekend of the Tuskegee fundraiser and met Booker T. Washington for the first time on the evening of Sunday, February 13.  Paul made a good impression on Washington, according to Alice's letters afterward.

You have scarcely been out of my thoughts a minute since Sunday night.  Dear, it was more than I could bear, almost, to have you go from me.  I stayed upstairs a bit -- to recover my composure, then went down again.  As soon as Mr. BTW left I went to bed.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 16, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

I have been wanting to tell you for some time of Mr. BTW's comment on you to me.  He said he couldn't imagine a better match, and said I deserved to be congratulated upon possessing your love.  He likes you very much, and spoke so nicely of you when I went back to the supper table after you had gone.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 23, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).